The mission of LowellIrish is to collect and preserve the history and cultural materials, which document the presence of the Irish community in Lowell. As the first immigrant group in a city that continues to celebrate its immigrant past, LowellIrish will serve as an advocate to support a better understanding of the historical, political, religious, and social function the Irish played in the formation of the city.
friends and family she was Nellie, but her given name was Ellen O’Neill. She
lived with her brother and mother in a small house on Lee Street,
near the Unitarian Church (currently St. Joseph Shrine). Her parents, Patrick and
Mary Jane, were both Irish immigrants, and when they arrived in Lowell Mr. O’Neill
opened a copper plating business that made tags for the Merrimack Print Works.
They also supplied signs, cards, and invitations to those who required their
services. Patrick O’Neill passed away in 1848, leaving his wife to care for the
children. She continued the printing business herself and was able to keep
their small home on Lee Street.
Street runs parallel to Lee Street and in between the two a small alley opened
between, with buildings on either side. The back door of the O’Neill home opened
directly to the back door of Rugg’s Music store at 99 Merrimack Street. And
this is where our story becomes part of the City’s history. A young Irish immigrant cornet
player and up and coming band leader by the name of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore
spent much time at Mr. Rugg’s store. Mr. Gilmore was a member of many local bands and
led the very popular Salem Cadet Band. Mr. Rugg's store was often the meeting place for the band before they performed in the area, such as their many concerts at Huntington Hall. At some point the back doors between the
music store and the O'Neill home opened at the same time and their eyes met. An American love
story began. With the help of Philip Haggerty, a musician himself and the choir
director of St. Patrick Church, P. S. Gilmore began to woo the fair Miss
O’Neill. Since she was a member of the church’s choir it was reported Mr.
Gilmore accompanied her to St. Pat’s and possibly joined the choir.
Gilmore had an Aunt Dinah who lived across the bridge in Pawtucketville. Being
the proper gentleman he was, and wanting to spend as much time as he could with
her. P. S. Gilmore accompanied Ellen to the quilting bees held at the Aunt’s home
where singing and conversation went late into the night. Seeing the moon cast
its reflection on the Merrimack River touched the romantic cords of the young
man’s heart.He must have been quite
smitten by her as he wrote When I Saw Sweet Nellie Home. The song may
not be quite familiar to today’s audience, but in the last century it was a
number one favorite for generations. The tune went through a number of
evolutions and different composers have penned their names to it, but it
started right here in Lowell.
John O’Brien of St Patrick Church married the couple, he 28 years old and she
21, in the rectory on Fenwick Street in May of 1858. The bride’s mother made
specially engraved invitations for the nuptials (one was still in existence a century
ago). The Gilmores left Lowell to begin a career that brought them much travel
and fame. Mrs. O'Neill sold the engraving business the same year and possibly traveled with her daughter. Gilmore is remembered today, along with John Philip Sousa, as the
Father of the American Band. He is best known for his rendition of When
Johnny Comes Marching Home. He started the tradition of music on New Year’s
Eve in Times Square, the Gilmore's Music Garden later becoming Madison Square Garden, and led the music for the nation's Centennial celebration as well as the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. The
list goes on. Nellie accompanied him wherever he went. She remained quiet and
often in the background, possibly because of the scars left by smallpox.
what of the little house on Lee Street? In the 1930s it was decided that it
should be torn down. It was in the way of progress of the big stores on Merrimack
Street that needed space. A sign attesting to the fact that the building would
be demolished was nailed to the front door.Across the country pleas went out to save the home. Many couples
recalled their own days of handholding listening to Seeing Nellie Home.
A radio program was created to dramatize the meeting between Patrick and Nellie. A last
minute effort went out recommending that the home be turned into a tea room.
Surely couples from all over would want to sit in Nellie’s parlor. But time marches on
and newer, more modern buildings took the place of the small wooden home.
of the missions of the Irish Cultural Committee is to help preserve Saint
Patrick Church. The Resurrection window was recently restored through generous
benefactors. The heating system installed in 1906 finally passed away and had
to be totally redone, thanks to benefactors. Many of the small windows in the
lower church need repair and stones need re-pointing. The work of the ICC helps
support such endeavors. Over a quarter of a million dollars has been donated in
the last 35 years. The Patrick Keyes home (the old Cosmo) on Market Street is
one of the oldest structures in the city. The future of the building is not
good.Imagine this as an Acre cultural
center?It will more than likely go the
way of Nellie’s home, Cardinal O’Connell’s birthplace, the house where Edgar
Allen Poe visited, Lucy Larcom’s boardinghouse, and how many others?